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Reform: dialogue, accountability, representation

There is a fundamental shift in the way power is operating.

In the last week, the Archbishop of Melbourne restricted Catholic agencies whose purpose it is to speak out on justice questions.

The Archbishop of Perth continues to impose Neo Catechumenate clergy on parishes, in spite of the evidence that the ill-fit between priest and people is destructive to both.

There are rumblings in South Australia over the alleged dictatorial approach of the Archbishop of Adelaide as he enjoys what has been described as a 'silver service lifestyle'.

The Archbishop of Sydney has taken action which effectively suppresses the parish at Darlinghurst, and alienates their assets.

The Church's income now comes primarily from government to run education and social services. Church agencies must now, therefore, adhere to new government policies, strategies and workplace agreements. These may be designed to promote international competitveness but are unlikely to heighten the dignity of the human person, as Leo XIII would have understood it.

Parishes are amalgamated without reference to the people or priests; schools are closed down with little notice and religious who anticipate a peaceful retirement are unceremoniously turfed out of their homes to make way for the Next Big Thing.

The decline of parish life - and the resulting decline in the liturgy - may be a reaction to this centralising tendency in the current church leadership. Catholics view with alarm the increasingly explicit "restorationist" mentality that sees the erosion of local responsibilities, the downgrading of ecumenism and the trend to an imposed top down uniformity.

The question is, what might be done about it?

Avery Cardinal Dulles writes that the point of reform is to make people or institutions more faithful to an ideal already accepted. The French Dominican Yves Congar says that "every renewal of the Church essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling".

Firstly, the collegiality and mutuality called for by Vatican II must be rediscovered. Reform groups in the United States have programmes in which the laity are encouraged to contact their bishops to institute regular dialogue.

Secondly, financial and administrative accountabilities, including independent financial audits are being claimed. There are now a number of US dioceses which publish their accounts; given that it is the faithful who are the source of the Church's income this practice is both reasonable and just.

Thirdly, communities must expect to be consulted in the selection of leaders. It is no longer sustainable that Catholics have no say in the appointment of their pastors. Such destructive results when personnel appointments are carelessly handled do the Church, that 'expert in humanity', no credit.

There are some in the Church who, to paraphrase Augustine, cry 'give me reform, but not yet'.

For these souls, the prospect of the inevitable conflict with authority is too fearsome to be contemplated: for them discussion of reform becomes the actuality, or as near to it as they want to get.

This strategy of indefinite delay is mistaken. A strategy - to be strategic - must end up as a plan for action. The delayers have no plan but to appease.

Australian Catholics who really love the Church must take a deep breath and insist that their leaders offer genuine dialogue, accountability and representation. As Fr Tissa Balasuriya wrote recently, "The important thing is not to try to define Jesus but to follow him, and his teaching.

"To those who trust in his message, his guarantee of ultimate victory is a source of confidence and strength."

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